The Wilderness Programs

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TheWilderness Programs

TheWilderness Programs

Humanbeings are faced with numerous health care challenges that areaddressing using different therapeutic strategies. The therapeuticstrategies are designed to suit the age of the affected or the illperson and the specific type of sicknesses that the therapists aretargeting. Although there are instances when more than onetherapeutic strategy may be applicable for addressing more than onehealth issue, the therapist has the discretion to select the strategythat is perceived to be more effective (Pollack, Eisenberg &ampShipp, 2013). The wilderness programs are part of the key therapeuticstrategies that have been tried on teenagers for decades. This paperwill provide a discussion of the wilderness program with a focus ontheir definition, what they do, how their staff are recruited andtrained, and their effectiveness.

Whatthe Wilderness programs are

TheWilderness Programs refers to a subset of adventure types of therapy,where the target client is exposed to an outdoor environment as partof the therapeutic process. Wilderness therapy is an action-orientedapproach that engages youths in the process of helping them acquirethe sense of healing, well-being, and social responsibility. Theseprograms are specifically designed for teens with behavioralproblems. The therapists take their clients for an adventure, andtake advantage of the advantage of the opportunity that they have tointeract with their clients to counsel them through the traditionaltechniques (Russell, 2010). The Wilderness program mainly targetsteen aged 14-18 years, although some programs are being developed foryouths past the age of 18 years.

Whatthe programs are about

TheWilderness programs are specifically designed to address thebehavioral problems that affect teens. For example, the WildernessPrograms are used to help teens with drugs and gang psychosocialchallenges as well as those who are brought up in broken families(Houston, Knabb &amp Welsh, 2010). The Wilderness program may beadministered in different ways (including the organization of bootcamps or a walk into the desert) depending on the preferences of thetherapist or the needs of the clients. While in the wilderness, thetherapists apply the traditional therapeutic techniques incombination with the clients’ exposure to the nature to address theunderlying behavioral issues (Russell, 2010). The aim of theWilderness programs is to allow the client to reflect, developprimitive skills that are often ignored, and achieve interpersonal aswell as personal growth. The process of selecting participants isbased on the treatment plan of each client and clinical assessment.Therefore, the Wilderness programs are all about the combination ofthe therapeutic aspects of nature with conventional behavioraltherapy approaches to achieve attitudinal as well as behavioralchanges.

Whatthe Wilderness programs do

TheWilderness programs have different types of outcomes of differentclients. However, the major types of outcomes that are expected fromthe Wilderness programs include an increase in the self-esteemacquisition is team building skills, the sense of belonging to agroup, locus of control, and interpersonal skills (Pollack, Eisenberg&amp Shipp, 2013). These treatment programs are based on thetheories of adventure and wilderness. The two theories hold thatdifferent life skills are acquired through experiential learning andengagement in challenging activities. Walking in the desert orconstructing camps in the boot camp program can be counted as part ofthe challenging activities that clients undertake during theWilderness programs. In addition, the theories of adventure andwilderness emphasize on the significance of learning life skills bydoing and applying the skills that one has learned to address reallife issues (Houston, Knabb &amp Welsh, 2010).

Theeffectiveness of the Wilderness therapy programs is based on fiveprinciples of the philosophy of experiential learning. The firstprinciple holds that carefully selected activities and experiencesfacilitate learning, which in turn promotes personal growth andpositive change (Houston, Knabb &amp Welsh, 2010). The term positivechange implies that the teens who take part in the Wildernessprograms are able to see the positive side of life and change theirbehavior in order to take advantage of the positive things that lifeoffers to them. The second principle holds that the client should beengaged in as many ways as possible in order to help them learnmultiple skills. This means that the wilderness programs develop anall-rounded teen (Houston, Knabb &amp Welsh, 2010).

Thethird principle states that experiential learning, which is thebackbone of the wilderness therapy, is active as opposed to a passivetherapeutic program, which implies that all clients are encouraged toassume active roles. The aim of applying this principle whendelivering wilderness therapy is to ensure that the treatment processproduces practical as opposed to theoretical teens. The fourthprinciple states that new knowledge is developed from the client’sexperience. The basic skills that clients acquire during the therapyprocess give them a platform on which they can learn new knowledge(Houston, Knabb &amp Welsh, 2010). Moreover, the new knowledge maybe learned through group discussions, dialogue, drawing, and writing,all of which are activities organized during the adventure. The lastprinciple states that different activities are made more meaningfulwhen natural consequences are used. In overall, the wildernesstherapy programs produce an all rounded, active, practical,motivated, and a knowledgeable teen who can take actions that addressthe underlying behavioral challenges.

Recruitmentand training of staff

Therecruitment process used by the organizations that deliver wildernesstherapy is not different from other types of the organizations. Thesefacilities place their job adverts on their websites or other typesof media from where potential candidates can review and makeapplications. Job adverts differ with the line of profession andlevel of experience. The level of skills of the potential candidatesis assessed during the recruitment process while the competencies ofthe members of staff who have been serving the institution aredetermined regularly in order to identify the knowledge gap. Thestaff training programs are organized in the same as other types oforganization do where, the training may be offered to a group ofemployees depending on their line of profession or the knowledge gap.The most effective wilderness therapy facilities offer staff trainingprograms on a regular basis in order to ensure that their employeesare imparted with the skills that can help them address emergingchanges as well new behavioral challenges affecting the modern teens.

Effectivenessof the wilderness programs

Mostof the available studies show that the wilderness programs areeffective in addressing the behavioral challenges that teens face inlife. For example, a mixed method study conducted by Norton (2008)showed that the wilderness therapy address nearly all behavioralissues that are common among the teens. For example, the studyindicated that there was a 33.5 % decrease in the prevalence ofdepression after the administration of the wilderness programs. Inaddition, the same study indicated a significant association betweenthe administration of the wilderness programs and the increase in theprevalence of psychosocial health. The increase in the prevalence ofthe psychosocial health reduces the prevalence of depressivesymptoms. Moreover, Norton (2008) showed that the increase in thepsychosocial health and a decrease in the prevalence of depressivesymptoms resulted in a significant improvement in the academicperformance of the teens that underwent the wilderness programs.

Anothernarrative review study conducted by Clem, Stephanie &amp Thyer(2015) evaluated the effectiveness of the wilderness programs inreducing recidivism among teens. The study produced mixed results. Itshowed that the administration of the Wilderness programs loweredre-arrest rates, severity of the types of crimes, and time betweenarrests. However, the same study showed that the positive outcomesachieved from the administration of the wilderness programs areshort-lived and less significant. These empirical findings indicatethat the wilderness programs have short-term outcomes, which createsthe need for their combination with other strategies that can producelong-term effects.


Thewilderness programs are unique therapy approaches that combine thetherapeutic aspects of adventure and nature to address the behavioralchallenges that teens face in their life. The effectiveness of thewilderness programs can be attributed to the fact that they areaction-oriented. The therapists who adopt the wilderness programsinvite the teens to take active roles or be engaged in a variety ofactivities with the objective of helping the teens become all-roundedand be ready to adopt a positive attitude. The wilderness reducesdepressive symptoms, enhance psychosocial well-being, improveacademic performance, and lower the rate of recidivism among theteens.


Clem,M., Stephanie, G., &amp Thyer, A. (2015). Does wilderness therapyreduce recidivism in delinquent adolescents? Journalof Adolescent and Family Health,7 (1), 1-21.

Houston,D., Knabb, J. &amp Welsh, K. (2010). Wilderness therapy as aspecialized competency. InternationalJournal of Psychological Studies,2 (2), 52-64.

Norton,C. (2008). Understanding the impact of wilderness therapy onadolescent depression and psychosocial development. IllinoisChild Welfare,4 (1), 166-178.

Pollack,D., Eisenberg, K. &amp Shipp, M. (2013). Wilderness therapysettings: An industry in need of legal and regulatory oversight. TheMichigan Child Welfare Law Journal,1, 8-27.

Russell,C. (2010). Exploring how the wilderness therapy process relates tooutcomes. TheJournal of Experiential Education,1, 170-176.